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Women’s crucial role in First World War marked by popular museum

Nurse Elsie Standley. Picture: COURTESY OF WYMONDHAM HERITAGE MUSEUM

Nurse Elsie Standley. Picture: COURTESY OF WYMONDHAM HERITAGE MUSEUM

Archant

The role of “our boys” in the First World War is often much celebrated.

Wymondham railway staff with Mabel Norman, left, and Molly Yaxley, right. Picture: COURTESY OF WYMONDHAM HERITAGE MUSEUMWymondham railway staff with Mabel Norman, left, and Molly Yaxley, right. Picture: COURTESY OF WYMONDHAM HERITAGE MUSEUM

But now a popular town museum is set to reopen for its 2018 season with a new exhibition marking the equally important role women played in the conflict.

Wymondham Heritage Museum’s display coincides with this year’s 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

Called Women in Wymondham in the First World War, it is designed to show the transformational role females played at home while their husbands, fathers and sons went to the battlefields to fight.

Whereas in 1914 many women were seen as domestic workers, the conflict thrust them into jobs previously dominated by their male counterparts.

Elsie Standley with shop van. Picture: COURTESY OF WYMONDHAM HERITAGE MUSEUMElsie Standley with shop van. Picture: COURTESY OF WYMONDHAM HERITAGE MUSEUM

Examples such as Molly Yaxley and Mabel Norman, who replaced enlisted men as clerks at Wymondham railway station, proved they were more than up to the task of filling their male counterparts’ shoes.

Yet Wymondham Heritage Museum display manager Sarah Standley explained: “Times had not moved on enough in these war years for women’s equality and once the men returned, Molly was one of many ladies who were released from their wartime roles to return to more typically female duties.”

Mabel Norman got married and left her role.

Many of Wymondham’s women during the First World War were at Red Cross Hospitals in the town, including The Red House and Abbotsford, where they worked as nurses, cooks and ancillary staff.

Nursing wounded soldiers in the tin Tabernacle. Picture: COURTESY OF WYMONDHAM HERITAGE MUSEUMNursing wounded soldiers in the tin Tabernacle. Picture: COURTESY OF WYMONDHAM HERITAGE MUSEUM

Among these was Sarah Standley’s great aunt, Elsie Standley.

Sarah Standley: “Elsie was a nurse. She would also drive the delivery van for the family ironmonger’s shop on Town Green, something which the young men would have done prior to the war.

“Our display illustrates how women kept their homes, working life and communities going during the years of the First World War.”

Other displays include a refurbished exhibition featuring the town’s most famous citizen Robert Kett. New for this year are copies of the original indictments of Robert and his brother William.

Wymondham Heritage Museum. Picture: NICK BUTCHERWymondham Heritage Museum. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

A special display celebrates the 400th anniversary of the Market Cross, while the Lost Pubs of Wymondham exhibition proved so popular last year it has been retained for 2018.

The museum is located in The Bridewell, Norwich Road, and is open from March 12 to November 3, Monday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm.

It is also open Sundays 1pm to 4pm.

The Bridewell Tearoom is open Monday to Friday, from 10am to 3.30pm, as well as Sundays 1pm to 3.30pm. Entrance to the tearoom is free at any time.

For more information, visit www.wymondhamheritagemuseum.co.uk

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